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Hikaru no Go 2

Video Game Reviews

Ratings are based on a five-point scale, in homage to the the late, great Next Generation Magazine.

Released in Japan
Gameboy Advance

Rating: * * * *
Hikaru no Go 2 - video game reviews

Hikaru no Go 2 screen shots - click for closeup, eh

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(140k page)


April 16, 2003

Hikaru no Go 2 is a true gem, a wonderfully crafted videogame that is compelling and entertaining and a heck of a lot of fun. The Gameboy Advance has been searching for its Tetris, that instantly likable puzzler that people everywhere swarm to, but it hasn't been found so far. There are some good titles, ports of existing games, mainly. What this machine needs is something truly new, not just another rerun. Thankfully, this is exactly what Konami has done; I would say this is the best "thinking" game on the Advance.

The only catch is that most Westerners may never see it for themselves. Hikaru no Go 2 is available only in Japan, and there are currently no plans to bring it to the States. That would be a tragedy; it's tragic that a great videogame would be missed, and it's tragic that the game of Go is so unknown here.

Go is a 4.000-year-old game that is often compared to Chess; both are immensely deep war games that rely on strategy and skill. The game has a long and rich history in Asia, is fairly easy to grasp, and takes a lifetime to master. It is said that no two Go games are alike, a statement that reflects its depth. I first found out about Go from Darrin Aronovski's 1998 indie thriller "Pi," and was drawn by the almost philosophical approach to the game, but I never had the opportunity to learn more. The game is virtually nonexistent in America, apart from academics and high thinkers. To the average Joe, it simply doesn't register.

Go is played on a wooden board (called a goban) with two players who place small stones across an intersecting grid. The approach is similar to our Othello, as each person tries to capture the enemy stones by surrounding them. Unlike Othello, however, capturing pieces is not the primary importance. Capturing and controlling territory is. Games play out like epic battles, and the placement of stones is not unlike the movement of armies. You must find a balance between attacking the enemy territory, defending your armies, and protecting your line. The name Atari (similar to 'check' in Chess) comes from Go, as Nolan Bushnell was himself a fan.

I learned much about the game from Randy Pickering's excellent FAQ on Gamefaqs.com. Since nearly all the text in Hikaru no Go 2 is in Japanese, his tutorial is essential to finding your way around. The cartridge also teaches you the basic rules and strategies of the game, but unless you are fluent in Japanese, it's not much help. Again, thank goodness for Gamefaqs.

Hikaru no Go 2 features characters from Hotta Yumi's manga comic of the same name. The manga has sparked a renewed interest in Go with Japanese schoolchildren; Go's popularity was reserved for the elderly. Who knows, perhaps Hikaru could become the next Pokemon someday.

Anyway, back to the Gameboy Advance. It is not necessary to know about the comic to play this game, but it is nice to know the various characters who are staring back at you from inside the screen. Of the game's three main modes, the first is a Story mode, where players travel to school, learn Go lessons, pass tests by the teachers, and play against the different characters. There is a lot to play through here, but, again, if you don't read Japanese, it's all a loss.

The second mode is a versus mode, much better. Now you can get to playing Go, against a friend or the manga characters. Each opponent is ranked, so you have an idea how difficult your next match will be.

The third mode is my favorite. Called "Stone Get!" this mode pits you against a tournament-style progression of matches against increasingly challenging opponents. Games are played for points, which can then be used to buy more sets of stones. In addition to the basic black and white stones, there are many varied stones of wonderful colors and patterns. After buying a set of stones and adding them to your collection, you can use them in matches. Even better is the ability to mix and match different stones to create a custom set; this is a brilliant touch that lets players add their own individual stamp to the game.

Hikaru no Go 2 is drawn with a rich hue and full, bright colors. The Advance can display a terrific amount of color for such a small screen, and every pixel is put to use here. This is exactly what a videogame at the turn of the century should look like. The goban is painted with a wood grain texture, the manga characters bobble and turn (and make many comments during the course of a match), and there are all those stones. A number of visual effects are added for extra spice: connecting a group of five or more stones, capturing enemy stones, making a brilliant move. Each of these carries its own effect, depending on which set of stones you use. And, of course, this is where the mix-and-match features come in so well. And the music is a fine mix of pop and waltz-time beats, very easy on the ears, and far better than Konami's first Hikaru no Go (that game was much too obtuse).

Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay is that this videogame sparked my interest in the game of Go. Despite the depth of the game, I never feel that I'm over my head. Such a title doesn't seem natural for a hit videogame in the West, but I suspect Konami would have a sleeper hit on their hands if they brought Hikaru no Go 2 to our shores. Too bad you'll never find out. Poor you.